on 13 February 2008
Midway through the third stage of the 1924 Tour de France, Henri Pélissier (winner of the 1923 Tour) abandoned. Journalist Albert Londres found him drinking hot chocolate at a train station restaurant. The interview Pélissier gave is still important. After explaining what the suffering racers endured he showed Londres the various pills and potions he took to both improve his performance and mitigate his misery. "We run on dynamite," he said.
Over the years the types of dynamite have changed. In the 1930s chemists synthesized amphetamines and racers soon learned how they could help and harm. Tom Simpson died in 1967 from the effects of dehydration, diarrhea and amphetamine overdose.
In the 1970s, the overuse of corticoids nearly killed 2-time Tour winner Bernard Thévenet. When he went public with his misdeeds, explaining that his use of steroids was the usual practice in the peloton, he received abuse from his sponsor, the public and his fellow riders.
In the 1990s EPO made doping necessary if a racer wanted to win. Riders like Marco Pantani and Bjarne Riis ran their hematocrits to a nearly lethal 60%. Any racer wishing to compete with these men and their like were forced to either stick the needle in their arms or retire. This is not just my guess. Many racers from that era (Andy Hampsten, for one) have gone public with how the sport was transformed by a drug that could dramatically improve a racer's power output.
Today, with a reliable test for EPO available, racers have gone on to new strategies, including old-fashioned blood doping. The best racers can spend over $100,000 a year on both the drugs and the technical expertise to avoid detection. Since this technology is so expensive, it is generally only the lower-paid lesser riders who get caught by dope tests.
That brings us to Walsh's book and the demand that he find a "smoking gun" before he levels any accusations. Smoking guns are almost impossible to find. In 1960, Tour de France doctor Pierre Dumas walked in on Gaston Nencini while he was calmly transfusing his own saved blood in his hotel room. That's not going to happen today because what Nencini was doing to win the 1960 Tour was not then illegal. Yet, Nencini was doing exactly what most doping experts think modern racers are doing, performing autologous (using their own saved blood for later injection) blood doping.
I urge any person concerned with the obvious problem of rampant doping in sports to read this book. Walsh isn't a sensationalist. He is a man who hates cheaters. This book is the result of his belief that Lance Armstrong, like almost all of the rest of the professional peloton, used banned performance-enhancing modalities. By necessity, he must build a circumstantial case, but that should not be a justification to reject his conclusions out of hand. I finished the book feeling that Walsh had had indeed made his case.
An old, retired Italian pro with close connections to the racers of today once sat me down and explained much about doping. He concluded by saying, "Bill, they are all dirty."
I would have liked Walsh to organize his information a little better. Still, that didn't keep this book from curling the hair on the back of my neck. Even those who fervently believe in Armstrong's innocence will learn much about modern professional cycling from this book.
- Bill McGann, Author of the Story of the Tour de France
on 1 January 2008
Read "Its not about the Bike" and then read this for the most terrific counterpoint to the Armstrong fandom we all, including me, swallowed for so long. Walsh has dedicated his life to uncovering the facts and sometimes his links and evidence are necessarily a little tenuous and repetitive. However, overall in my eyes he dramatically proves his case. One's opinion of Armstrong emerges battered but even more complex and fascinating in some ways. Its clear that Walsh does sympathise with him and that Armstrong really had no alternative to doping if he wanted to win as he did.
Read Armstrong's denials and some of the reviews on this page and you do realise how unwilling we have become, as a society, to accept that our heroes can be less than perfect. This book shows that LA was far from saintly but an amazing and fascinating human and athlete all the same. Its clear from this book though that modern cycling and sport as a whole are a serious mess and we need to have a serious rethink about the celeb money-culture that dominates them.
on 27 June 2008
This is a good read. Walsh obviously spent a long time researching his material for the book, which is presented in a very professional manner. Not once in the book does Walsh make an unfounded allegation, everything is backed up with evidence.
Being a keen amatuer cyclist, I am well aware of what goes on in the professional peleton and it upsets me to hear people defend Lance Armstorng or any other cyclist for that matter who has tested positive. This for me is the root of the problems in cycling, nobody wants to knows, everyone is happy to turn a blind eye. People like Greg Lemond, Paul Kimmage and David Walsh should be listened to by all, the work they have done has often landed them in hot water and on the receiving end of much critism, but someone has to try and turn the tide.
This book is not all anti-Lance, for me it's more a story beginning with where cycling really began going south almost 20 years ago and where it has come since then. It describes how the best in the game abused the trust of their supporters and exposes the dirty truth of what cycling has become.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone curious about what really goes on in the professional peleton.
on 14 August 2010
This would be a fascinating book for its contents alone, but turns out to be much more than the sum of its parts, as is clearly evidenced by the other reviews arrayed here. These testify both to its polarizing effect and the amazing and very human extent of the ability of people to stand firm to their own prejudices in the light of often powerful contradictory evidence.
As a casual cycling fan enamoured, like many, of "Le Tour" I had long been curious about the depth of the antagonism between Lance Armstrong and the French press. As an innocent bystander I struggled to understand the intensity and longevity of a cold war punctuated by Armstrong's vehement insistence on never having failed a drugs test against an apparently orchestrated campaign of rumour and innuendo. The question, I always wondered, was whether there was actually a smoking gun.
Viewed from a completely neutral point of view, but with a good deal of hindsight, the basic facts about doping in cycling during late 1990's to 2000's, the period where Armstrong reigned supreme, seem very simple:
* It was a period of revolution in drug use and in particular in the use of EPO, a blood supplement which, unlike many previous alternatives such as steroids or even human growth hormone, produced an immediate and directly measurable improvement in performance by directly allowing users to absorb greater proportions of their oxygen intake and thus directly allowing more efficient use of the muscles
* EPO was, at the time undetectable in any doping tests.
Taken together, the clear inference here is that during this period cyclists could administer EPO with impunity (other than significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke). Circumstantial evidence for the fact that this was precisely what happened is given by the fact that during this time the average speed of the Tour continued to increase year on year.
The two questions that then arise directly in relation to Armstrong were: did he dope? And; is there any proof that he doped? These are the questions this book ostensibly sets out to answer. Does it achieve this? Well, yes and no, but in asking the questions it certainly raises many more.
Where the book is successful in its aims is in respect of the factual evidence regarding EPO testing. The book clearly establishes that Armstrong never tested positive during his victory years but, following the subsequent development of an effective test for EPO, a number of samples contributed anonymously during his victory years were tested and found to be positive. A significant proportion of these samples was subsequently identified, albeit by a wholly unethical and possibly illegal sequence of events, to be attributable to Armstrong. Unsurprisingly, it is an understatement to suggest that Armstrong either accepts this version of events or, as a man not unknown to resort to legal action, is willing to allow this into the wider public domain. He is clearly not a fan of Walsh's book.
The book is less successful both in analysing and detailing physiological changes in Armstrong's body during his cycling career and as a record of what various people have said regarding Armstrong's comments on and attitude to drug use, in particular his own use or otherwise. In the case of the physical changes, Walsh generally does not have enough direct evidence to make any watertight case in relation to his opinions, although there are a number of reasonably interesting suppositions. In truth, though, this material is really a red herring if the author's evidence on direct drug testing is accepted. Contrarily, if the reader does not accept this, he or she is unlikely to change their mind based on the discussion of the rider's physical changes presented here.
Where the author is least successful, but paradoxically in some ways most interesting, is in the presentation of personal testimony from people who know or have known Armstrong. Amongst other things this includes reportage of alleged direct quotes from Armstrong regarding his own drug use. Unfortunately, in common with any spoken evidence, this material proves to be something of a chimera, generating a series of corroborations, refutations, claims and counter-claims. In reality all this serves to do is provide the type of smoke screen that experience has sadly shown too often allows drug users in sports to maintain a degree of plausibility. In some ways the author might be accused of a degree of naivety in that this is the very ground on which Armstrong has fought most effectively and for so long.
So, overall, does this book provide the smoking gun? In effect, and in as much as it can do, it does. Again with hindsight, the question that one has to ask is whether a smoking gun is actually required? The truth, palatable or otherwise, is that in order to compete during the period in which Armstrong raced most effectively, a cyclist would simply have to take EPO. Looking back, it is more sensible to ask whether there were any leading cyclists who WEREN'T taking EPO and the answer is probably none.
Of the other issues raised in the book, the lingering questions are; why has Armstrong never admitted taking EPO? And, more potently, does he, in his quieter moments, accept or even understand that his actions amounted to cheating? The potency of this final question is rendered even more relevant by recent events surrounding Floyd Landis, who spent a number of years and several hundred thousand dollars protesting his innocence right up until the moment he admitted his systematic drug usage.
So, does this book tell us much about Lance Armstrong personally beyond the case for the prosecution? Clearly, the answer is yes. This is a portrait of a man in denial but also who is recognisable as a man with an unquenchable will to win. He is not always presented as being very likeable and indeed at times he is not at all likeable. This doesn't necessarily come across as being an inaccurate portrayal; he clearly did what it took to win and if that required the use of EPO to compete on a level playing field, so be it. Again, such ambition inevitably results in casualties and broken friendships along the way. If he did take EPO then he certainly wasn't alone and, considering the fate of other such as Marco Pantani, tragically documented in Matt Rendell's exhaustive biography (which reads more like a pharmacological handbook), from a purely human perspective we should be grateful that he seems equipped for survival.
In truth, Lance Armstrong is a product both of the times he has lived through and of his chosen sport. He is no superman but shows a number of all too human failings, which are better illustrated here than in the many publications following the "official" line that have found their way onto the market. Ultimately, if you want to understand the man, this is how he has to be considered. The book also provides a realistic insight into doping in sport; it is rarely a clear-cut situation. And before Armstrong is judged, consider this; did anyone suggest at the time that Lasse Viren's use of medical "technology" should invalidate his Olympic achievements?
on 23 September 2007
I am an avowed Armstrong fan, I've read all his books and was wearing the Live Strong band before they became a fashion statement but I no longer believe with the naivety I once had. Over the last two years I have read nearly every book on cycling, watched countless videos and even ridden with several very successful ex-pros. The conclusion I have come to is that to dominate the Tour like he did for 7 years when many of his competitors (and ex-team mates) have been proven to have been doping stretches credibility. Yes a great deal of the evidence in this book is circumstantial but the feeling grows whilst you are reading that it is all too good to be true. Armstrong remains a great athlete and an inspiration for many cancer sufferers but whiter than white and always clean? I don't think so, not any more.
on 7 October 2010
I started reading this book a few weeks ago, during the same time that the Floyd Landis "accusations against Lance/ US Postal team mates" hearing is taking place in the US. Suddenly characters that I read about on internet news sites, which didn't mean much to me at the time(ie: the likes of Emma O'Reilley, Betsey Andreu, Stephanie McIlvain (Oakleys rep), Allen Lim) come to life in this book.
Walsh's book is very well balanced, and instead of being an anti-Lance book, it is more of a well researched sequential evolution of the US cyclists (teams like Motorola, US Postal) making the step up into the European arena, and having the moral dilemma of whether to dope to compete effectively.
Walsh could have written this book about any of the other cycling teams - Robobank, Festina, Mercatone Uno etc, where there is more hard evidence on doping within the sport. Instead he subtly explores the feedback of various ex-cyclists, sogneurs, doctors etc who dealt with the US cyclists over the 1980's through to late 2000's to provide you a book whereby you make up your own mind about where cycling is heading.
I have been an avid Lance fan for the past 10 years, and his battle against cancer, has been brave and well documented. One has to admire his career. Doping cannot help one improve team & leadership tactics, make one sense when opponents are suffering on the climbs and attack, be ruthless (attributes which he was famous for) BUT it gives you that edge to know you have that extra power / energy to maintain your tactics / attack when the time comes.
I am still a Lance fan, but I now believe there is no smoke without fire.
Read the book and make your own judgement.
on 15 June 2012
Having just read this book on kindle I don't have any difficulty believing any of it. I appreciate what some reviews are saying that much of it is hard to prove. That doesn't detract from the main thrust of the book.
Should Walsh aim so hard at Armstrong? Well that's up to him. Maybe he feels annoyed that Armstrong took his paper to the cleaners if he believes its allegations were true? Maybe he thinks that Armstrong has long since become part of the "establishment" that helps to protect doping? Who knows.
I don't think that if you read this book with an open mind you will come away thinking that Armstrong's detractors are simply driven by vindictiveness and spite.
One thing the book does do early on is a brief discussion of the unique reasons why drug taking became a regular habit so early on in cycling and how this then, very understandably, morphed into the entrenched habit of the 50s, 60s, 70s and so on.
It may well not entirely convince you that Armstrong is a "doper" but I think the book worth reading anyway, just to help one see how pervasive and deep-rooted the problem is in professional cycling. One criticism of the book might be that initially the problem of doping is obviously far bigger than any one cyclist, LA included- toward the end the book seemed perhaps to lose sight of this fact. Personally I thought Hein Verbruggen appeared in a far worse light than any current or recent cyclist.
Read it & see what you think.
on 5 July 2010
I imagine that most people who pick up a book like this are already fans of pro cycling. I heard about it as parts of it are often quoted to support various critics' stances on drugs in the sport. The arguments about drugs in cycling are well-known and well-worn, so the main thing I wanted from this book, I suppose, was something new on the subject, and in that respect I think it delivered.
I'm not sure where I stand in relation to the drugs, to be honest. I began to realise by the early 1990s that something wasn't quite right in the sport. By the late 1990s, and in the light of the 'Festina Affair' of the 1998 Tour de France, I had to face it, as a fan, that most of the sport was rife with cheating, and that it was the cheating that had shaped it into the form it had become; fast-paced, somewhat dangerous, exciting.
The jury is still out on Lance Armstrong's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, to be fair to Armstrong, the members of the jury haven't even taken their seats. The knowing question is usually something like: What made a relatively unsuccessful also-ran into a seven-times TdF winner after the seeming end of his career at the onset of testicular cancer? The book makes it plain that, on Armstrong's return to the sport, it was obvious to him and his manager, Johan Bruyneel (often seen as one of the major villains of the piece), that there was a 'two-speed race' - dopers in the fast lane and the rest of the bunch ten minutes behind. No matter how hard they trained, dieted, raced or rested, clean riders were destined to failure. The book gives a very vivid picture of this, the choice faced by Armstrong and his largely American cohorts, and how they dealt with it.
The book is very much tied up with the rise of the Americans in cycling, hence the title's seemingly narrow focus. At every point, from first US TdF winner Greg Lemond's observations of how crazy the pace had become, to prime mover Armstrong and high-profile disaster careers such as those of Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, who rode alongside Armstrong, to whistle-blowers like Frankie Andreu, it is Americans who feature prominently. The revelation I was looking for (though I'm sure it was obvious to people more well-informed) was that doping could have gone on quietly in the sport if left to the Europeans - the Festina Affair being a mixture of either bad luck or, it is suggested, a plot by a rival team. The Americans' apparent zeal for the practice took it up to another level, and blew it all wide apart, leading to suspicion aimed at the rather unlikeable Armstrong (who wants to be admired, I think, rather than popular), positive tests and ruined careers for the hapless Hamilton and Landis and, finally, crises of conscience for riders like Andreu.
There are books on cycling that only cycling fans would be bothered with, or would understand, come to that. This is not one of them. David Walsh has a fluid style that mixes journalism with a slight literary flourish, and is very readable - I got through this in a day or so. Consequently, I recommend this book to any reader, as a tale not only of doping in a sport that, let's face it, is off the radar of most people, even for those three weeks in July in France, but also a story of modern greed, achievement, dilemma and moral choices.
on 13 December 2011
David Walsh's "From Lance to Landis - Inside the American doping controversy at the Tour de France" chronicles Armstrong's story. Walsh uses court testimony and interviews with those who were within Armstrong's inner circle to document what was going on at the Armstrong's US Postal team. The section where Walsh details Damien Ressiot's L'Equipe newspaper examination of past blood samples using the new test for EPO and Armstrong's doping control form documentation is stunning.